While Ash's Meltdown saw Tim Wheeler lapsing back into the guitar-heavy, tune-light...
Jack Smith 2004
Musically, 2004 should be remembered as the year of the underdog.
Last December, who would have thought that hyped heavyweights like The Hives and The Vines would return with unimpressive second albums that would be massively outsold by a crew of mostly gay, disco-crazed New Yorkers like Scissor Sisters?
And who would have thought that Charlotte Hatherley - the Ash guitarist routinely sneered at by male critics as eye candy - would release an album that would wipe the floor with that of her usual outfit?
While Ash's Meltdown saw Tim Wheeler lapsing back into the guitar-heavy, tune-light riffola that blighted the earlier Nu-Clear Sounds, Hatherley has brilliantly reclaimed the breezy guitar pop that first made him famous.
The result is so utterly charming, so guileless and lovable, that it would be all too easy to get carried away.
For that reason it's important to note that Grey Will Fade is firmly traditional and far from groundbreaking. Indeed, pretty but insubstantial tunes like "Why You Wanna?" could have been cribbed from a "How To Do Indie" beginner's guide. Nor is Hatherley a disciplined songwriter; nothing here has the punch and sheer momentum of Ash's "Burn Baby Burn".
But who could possibly care when a tune as irresistible as "Kim Wilde" is fizzing out of your speakers? All Blondie guitars, Fleetwood Mac harmonies and giddy tempo shifts, it's far too busy enjoying itself to bother concentrating on just one of its three choruses.
The rest of the album doesn't get close enough to its brilliance, but it stays in the same postcode, which is good enough. Built on a gorgeous acoustic flourish, "Down" is lovely and lazy, while the ultra-poppy "Bastardo" is infectious and hilarious, that age old tale of a lady torn between her guitar and her lovely Latino. Elsewhere, lead single "Summer" is as warm and wistful as its title.
If I were Tim Wheeler I'd be looking at the story of a certain Black Francis and Kim Deal and feeling a little anxious right now.